Both in terms of yields and ecological benefits, residual farming is a better option
Over the past few years, there has been a paradigm shift in consumer preferences. Indian buyers are becoming increasingly health-conscious and watchful of the food they consume. In light of this trend, two modes of farming — residue-free and organic, have become increasingly popular.
Simply put, residue-free farming techniques entail the protection and growth improvement of seedlings and plants by using organically procured bio-fertilisers and biocides.
The produce is also grown using synthetic pesticides, which are applied at predetermined intervals so that the residue is not present in enormous quantities, conforming to the (MRL) Maximum Residue Level.
Organic farming, on the other hand, is an agricultural system that relies on pest controls and bio-fertilisers that are obtained from animal and plant waste. It even involves the plantation of nitrogen-fixing cover crops.
Residue-free farming eliminates the shortcomings of organic farming techniques. It is essential to promote residue-free over organic farming for the following reasons:
The consumption factor
Research now reveals that there are no clear indicators to suggest that organic produce offers a higher nutritional value when compared to fruits and vegetables grown using other techniques. Residue-free farming practices have been successful in overcoming this downside. Since it does not involve any toxin throughout the production process, the fruits and vegetables, thus produced, are best for those with allergies and other dietary restrictions. Their overall nutritional value and quality are high. Despite the obvious benefits, farmers in India do not fully embrace residue-free farming, which is mostly neglected by buyers and sellers in the local market.
Several State governments have recognised the importance of residue-free produce. The ₹2,200-crore State of Maharashtra Agribusiness and Rural Transformation (SMART) project plans to supply the urban population of Pune residue-free produce.
The production factor
According to a study, the yield capacity of organic farming methods is so low that relying solely on these techniques will be insufficient to meet the demands of a constantly rising population. Further, the production of organic items is expensive, and in some instances, the mark-up of these produces is as high as 40 per cent. Residue-free techniques, on the other hand, are economical, and they do not hamper production quantity. It makes use of modern practices like poly-houses, grafting, bio-fertiliser management, and rainwater harvesting. The Centre has launched the All India Network Project on Pesticide Residues (AINP-PR) to combat pesticide contamination in several food commodities. Numerous agritech players are also collaborating with farmers to produce residue-free fruits and vegetables.
The environmental factor
Traditional farming practices depended largely on chemical fertilisers and pesticides. These substances are not only detrimental for consumers but also impoverish the quality of the surrounding environment. For instance, they lead to soil degradation, water pollution and loss of aquatic life, among others. Though organic farming eradicates this problem, the cost of doing so is very high. The yield is insufficient. Residue-free practices entail minimal or no usage of chemicals. They do not hamper any other aspect of farming. As the name suggests, it leaves no harmful traces behind. To instil a culture of food safety in the country, FSSAI has introduced a list of crop contaminants and their acceptable levels. According to regulation, the certified levels of mentioned elements cannot be breached during production.
Trade and international standards:
India apart from its domestic consumption also caters to international fresh food demand. However, Indian goods face rejection because they fail to fall under the international Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs). For example, the EU refused consignments of table grapes of India as they failed to fall under their strict MRL. In 2020, the crops that faced issues on the international front included chillies, basmati rice and sesame seeds. Developed countries encourage and promote residue-free crops. Good agricultural practices, as well as well-defined MRL standards, are used to ensure residue-free produce, and the slightest deviation from their pre-set parameters renders the entire consignment useless. To make indigenous produce more competitive in the export market, FSSAI has issued a set of MRLs for the compliance of domestic producers. These standards are set after considering the global requirements.
The subcontinent’s focus on residue-free and clean produce has seen a dramatic increase in recent years. Apart from the government and its subsidiary bodies, a plethora of agri-tech players have also entered the picture to spread awareness. Many private players are leveraging technology to empower farmers, streamline the supply chain, incorporate end-to-end traceability and minimise wastage through residue-free cultivation.
The writer is CEO and Co-Founder, Ninjacart